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Living the rhythm of Lent

Lent is long. It begins with such good intentions, and then it meets the challenges of everyday life. Some years, it meets the challenges of extraordinarily difficult life. No matter what, living the rhythm of Lent brings us face to face with the modern world in ways that bring the contradictions of our culture and our faith into sharp focus. The walk with Jesus from the triumphant moments of Palm Sunday to the morning of the Resurrection gives us insight into how to live as Easter people in a society that seems to have lost its way.

When Jesus gathers with his disciples in the upper room just before he is betrayed by Judas, he leaves us a legacy. In those intimate hours with his disciples before he is crucified, he draws us very near to him and offers us a template for living that proves to be exactly what we need today. The Gospel of John, in particular, pulls us into Jesus’ final hours with his dearest friends and asks us to slow down and truly live Holy Week in a way that will change us for the rest of our lives.

He gathers his friends close to him, and then he kneels to serve. On his knees, he tenderly washes their feet and tells them that in order to live as his disciples, they must follow his example and kneel to serve as well. Surely, the disciples were perplexed by this, but Jesus doesn’t really give them much time to parse it. He moves on to the gift that will fuel them for the hard life that lies ahead. He gives them the Eucharist — their strength and sustenance. He tells them very clearly to consecrate bread in memory of him, to live those moments around the table again and again in order to receive the grace of the sacrament. He says that he will live within them, real and present in their lives. In almost the same breath, he tells them clearly to love one another. The two are inextricably intertwined: grace and love, sacrament and service. This is the pattern Jesus leaves for us. Come to him for the grace that will fuel the service. He has everything we need to live as he commands while we wait in expectant hope for him to come again in glory.

Continuing in John’s Gospel, Jesus prays. With all the love and wisdom of a master about to leave his students forever, he looks to heaven and asks the tender mercy and magnificent strength of the glory of God for the friends he is about to leave behind. That prayer (Jn:17), prayed on their behalf, is the prayer we can pray during Holy Week, during the Easter season and on a hot day in July when life is just a struggle. In that prayer, Jesus pulls together the three years he spent living daily life with his dearest friends and he casts a vision for the life they will live after his death. He helps them to understand that they are entirely new people now, and the work they have done together will become the foundation of the work they will continue to do as they live the life of apostles of Christ.

Jesus takes his time through those last chapters of John, slowing us down and inviting us to pause. As we look toward Holy Week, can we accept his invitation? Can we sit in silence pondering the prayer he left us? Can we see the pattern of life he crafted? Can we begin to understand that this life, in a world so far removed from an upper room in Jerusalem during the Passover, is the same world he envisioned when Christ showed us to begin on our knees in service, to receive the gift of grace in the Eucharist, and to look to heaven and offer our lives for the glory of God? Can we see that that is the truest life we can live?

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019